Several months ago, we came across an interesting looking lite introductory wargame that covered the Balkan Peninsula during World War I called March on the Drina. The game is made by a brother design team, which I think is really cool, and they dedicate the game to their father, so you know it is a labor of love. The game is scheduled to launch on Kickstarter on September 22nd.
You can check the game out on the Kickstarter preview page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/princepsgames/march-on-the-drina-ww1?ref=3y24q2&token=323b1184
Grant: First off Vukašin and Janko please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?
Vukašin: Hello. My name is Vukašin and I am a legal adviser in a Republican fund for pensions and insurance. I work with pension claims and sit in the office for 8 hours every day. I am also a water polo referee, so on the weekends I travel a lot. My brother, Janko, is a professor of physical education, a basketball coach and a fitness instructor, and he loves reading. We both love history and since we were kids we always enjoyed playing board games, especially those that were historical.
Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?
Vukašin: Board games have always been a love of mine and every time I played the game I thought “Oh, I would do differently, this could be done like this, etc.”, and eventually, my brother told me to stop talking and make my own game. So, I did just that. This is my first game and I am really satisfied with how it turned out.
People in board game world are amazing. I have never met so many people willing to help a stranger and be happy to do so. The whole atmosphere is very positive, people are exchanging ideas, advice and basically, the whole community works as one big team. That is something you don’t find very often.
Grant: What designers have influenced your style?
Vukašin: Larry Harris, designer of the Axis & Allies Series. When I first saw that game, I was intrigued by it’s design and gameplay because, up to that point, Risk was the only game that had hit our table. Of course, after a while I wished that some things in the game were made differently and that is what brought me into the game design world.
Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process? What do you feel you do really well?
Vukašin: Creating a balanced game is what I think is most challenging for all designers. I didn’t have a problem with game mechanics, I came up with a solution early in the process, but making the game equal for all the players was something that was troubling me for quite a bit of time.
I always love my games to tell a story, to intrigue players to learn a little bit more about the actual events that are mentioned in the game. Not all players know history, so my intention is to offer them some information they didn’t know or at least to make them talk about it.
Grant: What was your inspiration to design a game around the Balkan Peninsula during World War I?
Vukašin: In 2013, with the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WW1 approaching, I thought that it would be a good idea to make a board game which would cover the conflict in the Balkan Peninsula, where the war started in the first place. Serbia had a major role in that theater and since there were really no games that I knew of with Serbia and Bulgaria as an option, I knew that a game of this type would be well received in the Serbian market. After we had a huge success with a Serbian version of the game, we decided to make an English version and offer it to the world.
Grant: What type of research did you do for the history of the game?
Vukašin: World War I is a hot topic in Serbia. Serbia was responsible for first Allied victory in the war at the Battle of Cer in 1914, while our second victory came later that year at the Battle of Kolubara, has been studied at the West Point Academy as an example of a military masterpiece. Numerous articles, papers, TV shows, movies and documentaries are being made about the Balkan Peninsula theater, so I really didn’t have to do much research. Since the game is not focused on particular battle or operation, only common facts were needed to create a story for the game. In the introduction section of the Rulebook I offer my view of how and why The Great War started, which people might find interesting.
Grant: What is the meaning behind the name of the game in March on the Drina? What did you want the title to convey to players?
Vukašin: The Drina is a river in Western Serbia where the Battle of Cer took place and March on the Drina is a name of one of the most popular Serbian songs which tells about the heroic resistance and victory of the Serbian army there against the much larger Austro-Hungarian invading force. When I was thinking about the title of the game I was aiming for a word or a phrase which will tell the players that Serbia has a major role in this game and since everyone in Serbia knows about that song and its meaning, this was the most obvious choice.
When we decided to offer our game worldwide, we thought that leaving the same title would be a good idea, because, even though most foreign players haven’t heard about the song, they will probably google it and learn something new, learn about Serbia’s role in WWI.
Here are the lyrics:
Go to battle, all of you heroes,
Go on and don’t be sorry for your lives,
Let the Cer see the army,
Let the Cer hear the battle,
And the river Drina,
Glory, courage and the heroic hand of the father and son!
Sing, sing, cold water of the Drina,
Remember the stories about the ones whom fell,
Remember the brave army,
Whom, full of flame and mighty force,
Pushed the invaders back from our dear river!
Sing, sing, Drina, tell our loved ones,
How bravely we fought,
The army sang, the battle was fought near the cold water,
Blood was flowing,
Blood was pouring to the Drina for freedom.
Grant: I also understand that you are brothers. What was it like designing this game together?
Vukašin: It was fun. We work well as a team. My brother has always been the better player than me, more focused and better strategist so when we put together my ideas and his experience, we got an interesting game. I am better with words and technology and he is better with numbers and people, so we fill out each other’s blanks, but the most important thing about us designing a game together is that we can spend more time together, while having fun.
Grant: You have dedicated the game to your father,m which I think is pretty cool. What was the reason behind this?
Vukašin: Our father was a great man and a great athlete. He was a Greco-Roman wrestler and participated in six Olympic Games (three as a participant and three as a referee). He taught us never to give up, to be honest and kind to others. He was the reason we love history so much, and his stories about famous heroes from ancient and modern history are something we will remember him by.
Grant: What is the scale of the game?
Vukašin: The map is set at 20 km per hex and it represents Serbia in 1914 and parts of the surrounding countries.
Grant: I understand that only one unit counter can be in a hex. Why did you choose to have this limit?
Vukašin: Having an unlimited number of units in one place has always troubled me, because it led to a lot of empty space on the game board and reduced players strategic options. The mechanics I created for this game (like resolving a battle) showed that having one type of unit in a hex is the best option. Just to make things clear, units have their maximum strength (which is like having 3 counters in one hex). Another limit is that you can’t have two types of unit in one hex.
Grant: What advantage does this give the design?
Vukašin: Since only one type of unit can be in a hex, players must be careful and make sure they hold the front line and make enough room in the background for a unit to retreat, because if there is no free hex that unit can retreat to, the unit is lost.
Grant: What different type of units are included? Why were other units like air units not included?
Vukašin: In March on the Drina there are only land units: Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery and Generals. Air units were not widely used in the Balkan Peninsula theater and with their limited performance (at the time) we thought that leaving them out for this version of the game was the best option.
Grant: How many units can a General command? What issues does this cause for players executing their strategy?
Vukašin: A General can command 6 units. There are two things which players must keep in mind. First, only units within a General’s Area of Command can be reinforced. Second, General’s special abilities are applied only to units within the Area of Command of a General.
This forces players to keep Generals close to their units, but on the other hand they must be careful and to not leave Generals exposed to an enemy attack.
Grant: How many different options of Generals are included? What type of strategy does each General encourage?
Vukašin: The Serbian player has six Generals at his disposal, Austro-Hungarian has 3, German and Bulgarian player have 2 Generals each. Every General has one of the seven special abilities. Players can choose which Generals they want to play with, according to the strategy they plan to use. If player wants to play offensive, he will choose a General with a special ability which gives him an advantage while attacking and vice versa.
Grant: What is the goal of the game? How do players win?
Vukašin: The goal of the game is to occupy all cities on territory of Serbia. Central Powers players play together and their goal is to conquer Serbian cities, while Serbian player must prevent that and, if possible, liberate any occupied city. The game lasts for 14 rounds and if neither side has all Serbian cities under control, the winner is the side who controls the majority of Serbian cities.
Grant: What is special about how units are initially setup?
Vukašin: Historically, Serbian command expected that the main attack from Austria-Hungary will come across Sava and Danube rivers, but they were wrong and the main attack came from Bosnia, across Drina river. This is something we wanted to keep in our game, so at the beginning players can chose the starting positions of their units. In that way there can be numerous combinations and every game will be different. This especially applies to Bulgarian units, since they have the widest front.
Grant: How do players use the included paper pad of the map? What type of tension does this create?
Vukašin: The paper pad is simply a scaled down version of the game board. Players mark the starting positions of their units on it. Austro-Hungarian, German and Bulgarian players do this together, without knowing where the Serbian player will place his defense. This solution brings us to the point where the phrase “know your enemy” really means that you have to know what your opponent might think.
Grant: What is a nation’s Military Capacity and how is it determined?
Vukašin: Every city has its own Military Capacity noted on the board. The sum of the numbers of cities under players control represents National Military Capacity (NMC). At the end of each turn, players collect their NMC and use it to purchase new units or to reinforce the existing ones.
Grant: How are units purchased? What are the costs of units and did you decide on these values?
Vukašin: When the Calendar shows that the time for reinforcements has come, players buy new units and reinforce the existing ones. Every unit (except Generals) have a maximum strength of 3, so when players buy new units they can choose to reinforce the units to the strength of 2 or 3 by adding tokens, or they can buy a whole new unit.
Infantry cost 6 Military Capacity Units (MCU) and that is the price of one token, so a full strength Infantry unit will cost 18 MCU (6 for the basic unit along with 6 each for a two tokens). Cavalry is more expensive and it costs 8 MCU, as well as the Generals. Artillery is the most expensive and it costs 10 MCU.
When we were deciding about the costs of the units, we were looking at their role in the game. Since Artillery is the only unit which has range fire capability and it has the highest attack value, it was logical for the Artillery to be the most expensive. Cavalry can move 3 hexes, while the rest can only move 2, so we set the costs for Cavalry just a bit higher. At the end, Infantry is the cheapest unit.
Grant: What is the purpose of the Calendar? What different events happen and what is their effect?
Vukašin: The Calendar has 14 cards and every card represents one period. The Calendar starts with July – August 1914 period and ends with September – December 1918 period. Important events of World War I are written on calendar cards, so by playing the game players can read and learn about WWI.
When it comes to the game itself, every card brings some effect. For example, in January – April 1915 period, a player who controls Serbia will lose 3 infantry tokens of his choice. At the beginning of a round, players read the effect that period brings, they apply it right away and it lasts for a whole round.
Effects reflect historical background of the period. Above mentioned January – April 1915 period reflects typhus epidemic which broke out among the Serbian population and soldiers. Beside 100,000 civilian casualties, the Serbian army lost around 35,000 men, so losing three Infantry tokens reflects that loss.
Grant: How does combat work? How do Luck Cards influence combat?
Vukašin: We wanted to make a simple game, so everyone can play it. The terrain of the game board has no impact on resolving a battle. Players calculate Total Attack and Total Defense values of their units and this is how they do it:
Strength of the unit (1, 2 or 3) + unit attack or defense value + value of the drawn luck card + The Calendar Effect (if applicable). Higher number wins. Loser loses a token and retreats.
Luck Cards have 4 values: 0, +1, +2, and +3. Attack value of full strength Cavalry unit is 6, so Luck Cards can have quite an impact on a battle. This is why there is an uneven number of every value in the deck. There are eighteen +1 cards, twelve +2 cards, six +0 and six +3 cards.
Grant: How can you adjust the Luck Cards and how does this change the experience?
Vukašin: Players can choose if they would like more or less of luck in the game. If players wish that luck has less impact on resolving a battle they can discard a certain number of cards, for example three +0 and three +3 cards. In that way +1 cards will make 50% of all cards so drawing the same value (+1) by both players becomes more likely. On the other hand, if players want more luck, they can discard for example, six +1 cards so drawing the same value card will be less likely.
Grant: Why did you decide against using dice and a Combat Results Table as other wargames typically do?
Vukašin: Having a deck of cards makes manipulating the values much easier, plus there is no need for D12 or D20 custom made dice, so this makes production of the game easier too. As I mentioned before, we were trying to make the game simple and less time consuming and that is why we decided to avoid a CRT.
Grant: I see that Serbian units can retreat through Albania. What does this represent from history?
Vukašin: This is something that really happened during the war. After the triple invasion of Serbia in 1915 by Austria-Hungary, and Germany, who were pushing from the north and Bulgaria who attacked from behind, the Serbian army was unable to stand the pressure and Serbian Government made a decision to withdraw the army to the Adriatic coast. Since Bulgarian forces were coming from the southeast, the only available route was across the Albanian mountains. This happened during winter and it cost the Serbian army around 150,000 men while another 100,000 civilians died. After the Great retreat, the Serbian army recovered and was reequipped and shipped to the Salonica front in Northern Greece.
Grant: How is this ability best used by the Serbian player?
Vukašin: I would say that this is a wild card for the Serbian player. Even if the Serbian player loses ground and have casualties, he still has the chance to win the game. By the time when this retreat becomes available (January-April 1916 period) the Serbian player can find himself surrounded and threatened on two fronts. Retreat then comes as an option which can bring him back to the game. Although his units are transferred all the way south in Northern Greece, they receive an extra move and attack ability so the Serbian player still has the chance to make the game interesting and perhaps, to win the game as well.
Grant: What does the game model well about this portion of WWI?
Vukašin: I think the game model fairly represents actual events of this WWI theater. You have a triple invasion, retreat of the Serbian forces and their comeback. Of course, this is just an option and players with their choices decide what will happen.
Grant: What type of experience does the design create for players?
Vukašin: When you compare it to other wargames, I think that this design brings a chance of light gaming. Not nearly complicated as other wargames, less time consuming, but still very interesting. We had couple of games that lasted for 5 hours. It really depends on players knowledge and strategy.
Grant: What different stretch goals will be included in the campaign?
Vukašin: Stretch goals are mainly focused on improving the quality of the game components. As the numbers go up, players will receive more graphics, nicer finishes, metal coins, etc.
But we decided to offer pledge levels so people can put their face on one of the units and on the box itself!
Thank you for your time in answering our questions Vukašin. I can feel your passion for this game and for the history of your country in your answers. I wish you good luck on this campaign and hope to people playing and enjoying this game on an under represented aspect of World War I.
If you are interested in March on the Drina, you can check the game out on the Kickstarter preview page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/princepsgames/march-on-the-drina-ww1?ref=3y24q2&token=323b1184
The campaign will commence on September 22nd.
You can also get a good feel for how the game plays from this video produced by the team: